The political polarization of America is not just rhetoric. It is fact. This series of electoral maps put together by FiveThirtyEight demonstrates just how polarized America has become. And people feel it. Americans on both sides of the aisle do not live among each other, are not friends with each other and do not even date each other. Instead they increasingly believe that they do not share common values. Some of these divisions have been exacerbated by an irresponsible media, always eager for the meaningless but dramatic shock of the moment in exchange for ratings.
The country cannot continue on its current path without soon reaching a dangerous boiling point. It is hard to imagine large scale civil violence or a disintegration of America, yet while neither of those two scenarios are likely, the situation could spiral toward some form of ugly chaos.
For too long Americans have been fed the myth of symbolic centralization: “We are all Americans and at the end of the day that is all that counts.” But that is not all that counts nor it was it ever intended to be the source of our national identity. In fact, America was designed as a federal republic because the founders understood that we were not all alike. This remains true but what does not remain is a government that acts as a federal republic. It is instead a centralized democracy that forces Americans of different political persuasions under one umbrella. Is it any surprise that half of us seemingly hate living with the other half? The answer is no, and that is why a dramatic return to the original federalism envisioned by the founders could be the path to a more harmonious nation.
Why should people who want free healthcare, free education and more stringent regulation not have it? And why should people who do not want larger social safety nets be forced to pay for these? Since most people today live in states where they are among like-minded people, why not let them decide how they want to govern themselves? Not only would this allow Americans the freedom to live in the state that best represents their values, but it would also make the states more competitive and better managed. Local people solve local problems. No one ever said they all had to solve them the same way. The only duties the federal government should bear are those enumerated by the Constitution.
Originally, the Constitution and the duties it conferred on the federal government were intended to be the foundation of our national identity. One would hope that it still can be. Of course the challenge in a return to federalism is that it means putting much of the Federal government and many of the related private interests that make money from the national government’s largesse out of business. It also means returning to a foreign policy of national defense only. Federalism challenges those in search of empire at home and abroad. Overcoming their resistance to Federalism is a herculean task. It could only be accomplished by a crisis of discord so great that it would force one of two choices upon the people: independent states that manage their respective affairs in a manner that is amenable to their citizens or chaos.
That choice may lie on the not too distant horizon. The good news is that states are already reasserting rights. The bad news is that the scope of the federal government’s control continues to expand and continues to force different groups of Americans to live with choices that each respectively consider unacceptable, pushing us ever closer to a boiling point.